As this unusual summer rapidly draws to a close, it can be hard to visualize how this school year is going to unfold. But whether you’re dropping the kids off at school, or setting up a kitchen classroom, the first few weeks of a new routine can be a drag. When summer vacation ends, it can feel like your family drifts apart as everyone dives back into school and work. Keep the family tight-knit and together with these school year strategies to support learning and quality time!
Strategies For School Year Success
- Have clear, open communication about everyone’s feelings. Children, parents, and teachers are likely all feeling strong emotions about the new school year: relief, concern, excitement, apprehension. Having an open conversation with your family can help create a space where they feel comfortable sharing how they’re feeling. Try also imagining with your children how teachers might be feeling, which will be a great lesson in empathy as well as a way to help children feel less alone in their emotions.
- Develop a family schedule. Summers can be a free-for-all, but it’s time to tighten up the schedule to prepare for a productive school year. Education experts suggest getting a one-month headstart on a morning routine similar to that of the school year: wake up at a reasonable hour, do morning chores, and have a healthy breakfast before beginning the activities of the day.
- Have consistent family dinners. Professionals across fields cannot stress the value of family dinnertime enough. Family dinners strengthen the family bond, set an expectation for conversation and catching up on the day, and work as great social learning opportunities for younger children. While it’s not possible for every family to have a home-cooked meal every night, having at least one night a week where the family collaborates to cook, serve, and enjoy a meal together is priceless.
- Designate learning spaces in the house. Whether your school year is in-person, virtual, or a hybrid of both, it’s important to have clearly defined learning spaces. It might be your child’s bedroom, a corner of the living room, or the kitchen table, but what matters is that it is free of clutter and distractions, so you can create a focused, productive environment.
- Make time to move. With the return of the school year it’s easy for exercise to get put on the backburner. Movement is so critical for growing bodies and learning brains! When children have an opportunity to move, stretch, and run with freedom, they’re able to come back focused and ready to work.
- Prioritize self-care. Self care looks different for every family and for every stage of childhood development, but it is never too early to start this habit! If your child has a long, hard day of learning, encourage them to take a special break just for them. Maybe it’s a bubble bath, a cup of tea, or time with just you; anything that feels special and relaxing.
- Build confidence. Returning to learning after an extended time out of the classroom might have some children feeling insecure. Take time everyday to celebrate their successes, talk through any struggles, and remind them how awesome they are!
What Children Really Need
Children need affection and emotional support, but what they truly crave are lovingly set boundaries. Boundaries allow children to feel safe and secure in their role within the family: predictability reduces anxiety and uncertainty, and allows children to be children rather than negotiators. So, when the school year starts up and your child balks at bedtime, it’s okay to reinforce the boundary you’ve set – it doesn’t make you a mean or unfair parent to uphold what you know to be best.
Children’s brains are still developing (new studies believe that the brain doesn’t fully develop until almost age 25!), and their prefrontal lobe, which controls executive function, logic, and decision making, is particularly underdeveloped. Children between the ages of 8 and 12 are in a stage of “concrete thinking”, which limits their ability to think in more abstract, nuanced terms. This is why concrete rules and boundaries are appropriate, and so helpful, for the school year. Their brains are literally unable to control impulsivity, decision making, and problem solving, so it is our job as parents to do that for them.
As you head back to school – however it looks for you this year – try all of these strategies to get your kids on track and ready to learn, and don’t be afraid to set boundaries. As the school year progresses and the novelty wears off, it might become difficult to maintain these routines. But even if your children fight you, it’s important to persevere! Consistent, loving boundaries are the key to building a successful school year routine.